For Americans, Goodwill is the go-to place to donate clothing. Goodwill is a non-profit that provides job training and generally affordable clothing. While it has a good mission, the organization doesn’t always live up to its name.
If you’re hoping to avoid Goodwill, or wondering if your donations will go further elsewhere, here are some alternative places to donate (including what to do with super ratty clothes!).
What’s Wrong with Donating to Goodwill?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with donating to Goodwill, but your clothes may have a greater impact elsewhere. In some cases, your donated clothing may actually be harming people instead of helping them.
Only 20% of clothes donated to thrift stores is actually resold. The rest is trashed or dumped in the Global South, where it pollutes their land and water, and disrupts their local textile economy. Ghana’s Kantamanto market is a prime example of this.
Besides that, Goodwill can be exploitative. Its CEO made $730k in 2018, and many other executives make close to a million, or at least six figures. All the while, many workers with disabilities are paid less than $1/hour. There is a legal loophole in the Fair Standards Labor Act that allows people with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage based on their productivity.
You could get into an hours-long discussion about the nuances of the policy, other government benefits, and how this affects people with disabilities. But one thing is clear: it’s not possible to live on a paltry paycheck like that. It’s grossly inequitable and disappointing to see a non-profit pay workers so little and executives so much.
Don’t get me wrong: many Goodwills do a lot of good. Each Goodwill operates independently, and some provide life-changing job training and fair wages to all their workers. I’m not trying to paint all Goodwills as horrible organizations; it’s just important to recognize that not every location may be as charitable as you think.
To check if your Goodwill is “good,” you can always look at the website of your local or regional branch. If you can’t find information about fair wages, I’d recommend contacting them directly or reading worker reviews on Glassdoor.
Regardless of whether or not your Goodwill has fair policies, it’s still helpful to learn about alternatives that may have a more direct impact on your community.
Where Not to Donate Clothes + What Not to Donate
Before you drop off your bag of clothing, I recommend repurposing or upcycling what you can. When your clothes stay with you, you know their impact.
One of the most popular places to donate clothing are the donation bins in parking lots or gas stations. Unfortunately, many of these bins go to shadowy organizations that make millions reselling the clothing (like GAIA and Planet Aid), and they offer little transparency how those funds are used. Some bins do go to decent organizations though (like Big Brothers Big Sisters), so you should research the org first.
In general, you should also avoid donating ratty clothes. Some organizations have textile recycling programs, but not all do. If you donate dirty, torn, or otherwise unwearable clothing, you may be hurting the charity since they have to spend resources getting rid of your trash. If you have ratty clothes, I’ll cover some options for getting rid of them at the end of this post!
I fully recognize that all of these alternatives are more effort than simply dropping off a bag of clothes, but I think we should take more responsibility for the items we bring into our closets. Donating is too often used as an excuse to consume more.
I also want to see more retailers take responsibility for their items. I love that more and more companies are offering a place to buy used/resell on their own websites, or creating recycling programs.
An example of what NOT to do—people are basically using these donation bins as trash cans.
Places to Donate Clothes Directly to People
One of the best ways to ensure your clothing will be used is to give it away directly. While you can’t control what they ultimately do with the clothing, these people will go out of their way to pick things up from you; if they’re willing to put in that effort, they’re more likely to make use of the clothing.
1. Buy Nothing Groups
The Buy Nothing Project has Facebook groups across the world. You join the group of your local area so you can give (and receive) right in your community. The group locations are super specific, and may cities are split up into multiple groups. You can only join the one where you live.
I love using my Buy Nothing Group because it lets you connect with nearby people who are eco-minded. I also frequently see people “re-gift” items that didn’t work out, which reassures me that most people in the group won’t let your clothing get trashed.
Freecycle is on online forum that allows you to post offers or wanted items. Unlike Buy Nothing groups, you can join multiple locations.
3. Mutual Aid App or Facebook Groups
The Mutual Aid App allows you to search for nearby aid requests and respond to them right in the app. There are also Facebook groups that allow you to give and request aid.
4. Facebook Marketplace
FB Marketplace doesn’t have the same community as Buy Nothing groups, but it’s still a quick way to connect with locals who want your clothing. There are definitely resellers on here, but I personally don’t mind it, as long the clothing will ultimately be used.
If you want to avoid resellers or people who just want free stuff, you can always set a low price to deter them, but still give the items away when the person comes to pick up.
5. Clothing swaps/ask your friends
If you’re just tired of your clothing, and don’t necessarily need to declutter, organize a clothing swap with your friends! A lot of social activities are centered around consumerism, but this is one way to get together and be sustainable (check out my other sustainable hangout ideas).
If you do actually need to downsize your closet, you can still ask your friends if they want specific items that suit their style. Just ask them to be honest with you about whether they’ll actually wear something, as some friends may feel pressured to say yes.
6. Curb Alerts
One of the easiest ways to get rid of clothing and household items is to leave it on the curb. You can leave a “curb alert” on your Buy Nothing group, freecycle.org, or Craigslist, or just leave your stuff outside.
While this requires the least effort, you can’t gurantee that you’ll find someone who will give your clothing a good home, as people who walk by aren’t necessarily going out of their way to get something they truly want/need. Still, it’s a decent option if you don’t want to coordinate pickups.
Just make sure you take responsibility for anything left behind, and check local guidelines, as some cities fine residents who leave stuff on curbs.
Other Places to Donate Clothes
Some organizations and programs aren’t taking donations due to the pandemic, so be sure to double-check before making plans to drop anything off. This is another reason that giving clothes away directly may be more effective, as individuals decide their comfort level in accepting others’ clothing. You can also do contactless porch pickups when passing your clothes onto individuals.
Some organizations are also overwhelmed with donations, so I always try to call ahead and see what’s needed before dropping anything off.
Some local public schools may accept donations to provide clothing to students in need. They often have “closets” where students can go and pick what they like.
Souls4Souls takes gently-used shoes and trains people in poverty to run their own business reselling the shoes. The goal is empower them with the skills and resources to provide for themselves and increase their living standards.
9. Foster care programs
Kids grow out of clothing quickly, and those in foster care often have very few belongings to begin with. As a result, foster care programs often have free closets to not only help the children, but also the new foster parents—allowing them to spend more money on the enrichment and development of their new family member.
10. LGBTQ+ centers
These centers provide free clothing and a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community. Binders and professional clothing tend to be in high demand.
11. Refugee organizations
Refugees often leave their lives and belongings behind to escape violence in their countries. These organizations not only provide free clothing to refugees, but also often food, shelter, medical care, legal services, and career advising.
Formerly incarcerated people often need professional clothing for interviews when transitioning back to society. Some prisons may accept donations directly. You can also search for nearby orgs that offer free professional clothing to figure out where to donate.
Many churches give clothes away for free to those in need, or they may have a low-cost thrift store. Some churches perpetuate harmful ideas, however, so you may want to research their beliefs before donating.
14. Free clothes banks
Some free clothes banks offer a specific types of clothing. Dress for Success has professional clothing and development to empower women to achieve economic independence. Cinderella’s Closet gives away free prom dresses to those who could otherwise not afford to attend prom.
15. Homeless shelters
New socks and underwear are some of the most highly sought-after items in these shelters. You can also give resources away directly to the homeless, but be sure to let them take what they need rather than dumping your stuff. Menstrual care products are also high-need.
16. Transitional living programs
These programs provide stable housing for homeless youth. They also equip them with the life and professional skills to transition into adulthood.
17. Youth emergency shelters
Children and teens can get emergency housing and crisis intervention at these shelters. These kids may be experiencing abuse, violence, neglect, poverty, or homelessness.
18. Sober living houses
Those recovering from drug or alcohol addiction can find a safe, supportive, and structured environment in these houses. Many residents may not have a lot of belongings or resources, so clothing donations can make a big difference. Sober living houses also often need linens, food, and furniture.
19. Nursing homes
Not every nursing home resident has a caring family member to bring them clothing. Call your local nursing home and see what they may need.
Hospitals often have a free closet for patients who arrive with damaged clothing. In other situations, clothing may need to be cut off patients to assess injuries, or taken in as evidence for sexual assault cases.
For hygiene purposes, most hospitals will only accept brand new clothing with tags. Underwear is in especially high demand.
21. Domestic violence centers
Victims of domestic violence often escape with very few, if any, belongings. These centers usually accept clothing (often new only) and also need menstrual products, shampoo, deodorant, and other personal care items.
22. Animal shelters (towels, blankets, and sheets)
Animal shelters often take clean towels, blankets, and sheets to keep the rescued animals warm. Check with your local rescue center to see what they need.
23. Charity Shops
This is low on the list because even small charity shops sometimes trash a lot of items, as there’s not always space for everything. That said, these shops play an important role in local communities. Boomerangs, for example, raises money for HIV/AIDs prevention, care, and research. Out of the Closet also supports people living with HIV/AIDs or homelessness.
What to do with Super Ratty Clothes?
Most organizations only accept clothing in good condition. So what do you do with pieces that are falling apart? Here are some options:
1. Repurpose as cleaning rags or patches
Rather than buying paper towels or Swiffer pads, you can use clothing rags. I also like to use rags for cleaning really gross stuff, like bathtubs, showers, flowers, or toilets. They also really come in handy when you’re mending old clothes or trying to stuff pillows (you can buy an empty shell or create one from an old shirt).
2. Facebook groups
If you don’t need the rags, it’s possible that people in your community do! Plumbers, mechanics, and farmers all use rags in their work. Local artists may be interested in using the textiles for their pieces. EMTs need to practice cutting clothing off of dummies. It doesn’t hurt to post it in Buy Nothing groups, artist groups, FB Marketplace, or NextDoor to see if anyone is interested.
3. Local textile recycling
Many cities have textile recycling programs where they may even pick up your clothing.
4. For Days take back bag
For Days has $20 take back bags (affiliate link) for recycling clothing. For Days is a circular sustainable brand that makes sure the clothes won’t get thrown away. All brands of clothing are welcome, in any condition. The money you spend on the take back bag also gets applied to your account, where you can later use it on For Days’ organic cotton streetwear.
5. Knickey underwear recycling
Most recycling programs won’t accept underwear, but Knickey (affiliate link) is a sustainable brand that accepts underwear of all brands, and turns them into insulation, cleaning rags, and yarn. They also take bras, tights, socks, and cloth face masks. Each recycling label is $5, but in return, you get a 15% discount on your next order of their organic cotton undies.
If your underwear is in good condition, then you might want to give them away instead of recycling. For more info and orgs to donate to, I have a post about getting rid of undies, bras, and socks responsibly.
6. Hylo sneaker recycling
If you want to go with a local dropoff, Nike isn’t a very sustainable brand, but they do have an athletic shoe recycling program, turning them into sports surfaces like basketball courts and tracks. Call your local Nike store to make sure they’re participating in the Reuse-A-Shoe program.
Again, I would only recommend these for shoes that are truly falling apart since worn shoes may still be good for walking, gym workouts, or gardening.
7. Madewell jeans recycling
Madewell is not the most sustainable or transparent brand, but they do have a denim recycling program that turns old jeans into housing insulation. Since jeans are resource-intensive to make, I’d only recommend this if yours are truly falling apart.
Let us know if you have more ideas for places to donate clothes, or ways to repurpose textiles!
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